Four barely escape from first avalanche of season
Four Salt Lake County residents say they were lucky to survive an avalanche Saturday afternoon in western Summit County. Avalanche danger is considerable this weekend.
“I’m grateful to be alive,” said 45-year-old Jim Manos, one of the people caught in the slide.
The group was skiing in the No Name Bowl area of the Wasatch Back when the snow layer slipped.
“They were skiing out of bounds, got caught in an avalanche and had to dig themselves out,” Summit County sheriff’s Sgt. Mike Dorman said.
One of the victims placed an emergency call to dispatch around 12:45 p.m. After setting up a mobile command at St. Mary’s Catholic Church, searchers initially responded on snowmobiles. Snow, wind and low visibility complicated the search until weather improved and a helicopter pilot spotted the skiers around 4 p.m., Dorman said.
“They’re very lucky. They’re very, very lucky,” the officer added.
Richard Steiner, 59, agrees. He helped dig out his two friends, Jane Arhart, 55, and Roger Arhart, 59, after the couple were buried nearly waste deep in snow.
“It was a nutty day,” Steiner said shortly after he was rescued Saturday night. “This is the first major avalanche we’ve witnessed, let alone been stuck in.”
Steiner and Jim Manos, the fourth skier in the group, admitted they were embarrassed by their decision to enter the woods on such a potentially dangerous day. They skied over a ridge from Big Cottonwood Canyon to access some of Summit County’s best backcountry. “From the ridge on USA bowl we went into No Name Bowl,” Steiner said. “There was definitely some bad judgment,” Manos added.
But while skiing, Steiner said, “it wasn’t really looking like it was anything bad.”
“It went,” he said. “We saw the wall coming.”
The skiers were attempting to escape into some trees when the avalanche overtook them, Steiner said, adding that several of them “were hit by the wall.”
“It ran the full length of the bowl,” Steiner said describing the size of the slide. “We never hiked back up to the crown.”
The four weren’t injured but lost much of their equipment, Jane Arhart said.
“We were all breathing,” she said. “We usually play it conservatively. We were stupid today.”
The group has decades of experience skiing in the Wasatch backcountry and each skier was prepared with probes and shovels to perform a beacon search if necessary. Five of their skis and six of their poles were lost in the avalanche, Arhart said.
“We were somewhat buried,” she said Saturday.
The group credits warmth from a fire they built for helping them stay calm.
“We just have to learn from this,” Arhart said. “Watch the steepness of the slope, watch the new snow.”
The Summit County Sheriff’s Office issued misdemeanor trespassing citations to the skiers.
According to http://www.avalanche.org, one skier triggered the avalanche at roughly 9,800 feet. The slide was roughly 600 feet wide and 5 feet deep, the Web site states. Visit the site for updated avalanche conditions in the Wasatch and Uinta mountain ranges.
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